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Preparations for a Mont Kinabalu hike

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Mt Kinabalu, at 4095m is the highest volcanic rock in South East Asia, outside the Himalayan range. Just found out from Chat GPT that the mountain is named after the Kadazan word "Aki Nabalu," which means "the revered place of the dead." It is a sacred site by the local Kadazan-Dusun people, who believe that the spirits of their ancestors reside on the mountain. #mtkinabalu

I am counting down for my trip to Mt K, down with a cough, I am feeling rather nervous. All my training efforts over the past few months might be futile if my attempt is unsuccessful.

Over the past few months I have paced myself to cover hikes above 10km, with some considerable elevation preferably from 500-700m. It is hard to find hikes around Kuala Lumpur area will high elevations unless you are tres-passing. Bukit Saga and Ah Pek elevation gradients are good training ground if you don't wish to drive so far, to Gunung Datuk or Bukit Kutu(and appoint a guide each time)!

After returning from the trip, I realised that it is necessary to train on hikes above 10km Most hikers who take 2 day one night package, you will be descending from 4095m to 1800m, 9km in a day. And this has not included, the predawn ascend at 2.30am from 3272m to 4095m in 3km. Therefore you have to be prepared to trek for around 12km on the day.

When it rains, the upper peak of the mountain becomes the source of the great big waterfall!

Starting point: Kinabalu Resort Park Headquaters 1560m

Hike Duration: between 5-6 hours if AMS don't strike

End Hike: Backtrack

Hike Difficulty: 4.5/5

Break it into 5 parts,

  • Part 1- Timpohan Gate (1866m) - Layang Layang (2740m)

  • Part 2- Mesilau Trail- Layang-Layang to Villosa Hut

  • Part 3- Villosa Hut to Panalaban

  • Part 4 - Panalaban, "Place of Sacrifice"

  • Part 5- Next day, Summit Attack

Scenery Rewards: HIGH on the TOP of the ROCK

Note: Sabah forestry grants a summit-climbing permit only to climbers who stay at mountain huts. Due to the limited beds at Panalaban hut, only 130 people are allowed to climb Mount Kinabalu per day.


What to bring

1. Basic first aid stuff such as disinfectant, ankle guard in case you sprain your ankle, band-aid. In case of altitude sickness, some hikers take a day in advance Diamox

2. Walking stick.

3. Thermal Raincoat or Poncho

4. Head-Torch, you will be needing spare batteries too!

5. At least 2l of water, with ORS powder if possible.

6. Warm clothes

7. Good pair of hiking shoes is absolutely necessary/ scandals to be worn in hut

8. Gloves

9. Cap

10. toiletries

Note: If you decide to appoint a porter to carry your load, please pack into a separate bag your items and pass to the porters. They will weigh each bag accordingly and it cost around 14rm per kg. Travel light but bring the necessaries!

PART 1 & 2- Entrance to Layang-Layang Hut

It begins with a flight of steps down as you leave Timpohon entrance gate. This flight of steps on the return, will seem like a mountain to climb when your legs are tired!

The trail leads to Carson’s Fall, named after the first Park Warden of Kinabalu Park, the only notable water source you will come across throughout the hike.

In the beginning, we hiked through lower montane forest (1800m-2000m). Normally shrouded in swirling mist, this lush forest is rich with vines moss, lichens, ferns, wild orchids, pitcher plants and other fascinating epiphytes. The terrain at this stage is slightly muddy with loose rocks and gravels, and red clay earth. There were some wooden stairs that were steep and high but not too challenging at this stage.

1st pavilion KANDIS at 1km

The 4km trek to Layang Layang Hut where you break for lunch is a relatively gradual ascend of 875m elevation. There is 1 pavilion and toilet for every 1km. It allows for plenty of resting time and pee break! At this point, I was thinking that climbing Mt K is not so tough after all. But the fun part only starts after the Layang layang point!

Note: As we were ascending, we came across 4 hikers who needed to be piggy back down. Never underestimate the mountain! The piggyback ride by the guide will cost you, 800rm for every km!

PART 2: Masilau Trail (1km to Villosa pavilion)

After our lunch break, the 1km trail to Villosa pavilion started to get demanding. The steps gradient got huge and steep. At the elevation of 2740m, the air got thinner, and exacerbated by fatigue, I was grasping for breath at shorter intervals. The forest seemed more stunted and less lush. More pitcher plant (Villosa), and wild orchids flanked both sides of the trail on rocks and trees. Old man's beard (lichen) is frequently seen billowing with the wind from tree branches. #borneonepenthes

Along the trail I bumped into frogs, many green birds (Bornean mountain whistle) who all seemed unaffected by the many hikers traversing their habitat. #pitcherplant

Villosa Nepenthes is the highest growing pitcher plants on Mont Kinabalu! Regal and majestic!

The trail changes to rocky boulders for about 400m right before the last Paka Pavilion 3080m

Part 3: Paka Pavilion to Panabalan

As we arrived at 5.5km point, were feeling extremely exhausted and it would take huge efforts for every 5 steps forward! There was a light drizzle threatening to become heavy like the one the day before. Our short exchange of words with descending hikers from the previous day revealed how the very path we were hiking on can turn into a stream, and can drench everything in it's way! With those words, there was no time to moan and groan, but it was time to press faster to avoid the impending rain!

This 500m seemed like 4km!

Part 4: Panabalan

Just as I was about to give up, I approach some huts, and I have read that Panalaban is just a few step away from the huts. I was determined to keep dry and charged on. And as the trail lead to an open area the view of the majestic peak above Panalaban hut was in clear sight except that there was a gargantuas waterfall falling for about 2km from the south peak! I was humbled at nature's grandeur before me, the wind billowed harder and the raindrops heavier as the clouds came in. I ran for cover, cold and damp by this point, at 3230m in skimpy shorts and tee and a plastic bag as a rain coat! I was a total joke! ......and my dry clothes were with my porter who was still making her way up with some 15kg load!

.........if you are a light sleeper and enjoy privacy, there are twin sharing rooms available!

.........5 star hiking, dinner was serve at 4.30 -7pm and supper from 1-2.30am

After a hearty dinner, we quickly went to bed to catch as much sleep as we could as we have set our alarm at 1am! However not everything went as planned. My friend felt unwell, and fearing to be AMS, decided to go to the sick bay for some oxygen treatment. She aborted her dreams to hike the next day, while we tried to sleep off whatever worries and anxiety we had about AMS.

Note: The huts run on generator, there is no hot water and the lights only comes on during certain periods. By 9pm it is total darkness! Bring an extra torch light if you are afraid of the dark!

PART 5: Summit Attack under sky full of stars & the sickle moon

Waking up and eating at 1.30am wasn't easy. Putting on your hiking boots and warm clothes and headlamp to brave the 8c weather outside in the dark was harder! ( I suggests not to wear to much warm clothes as it gets really hot once you start climbing those stairs)

The trail to the summit should be divided into 2 parts! One is the endless stairs upwards and the 45 degree rock cliff hike!

We started the hike at 2.30am, covering over 3km and rising from 3230m to 4095m. The aim is to watch the sun rise from Low's peak by 5.45am. But watching the sunrise anywhere on the plateau was just as amazing!

South peak, this image can be found behind the 100rm note

Tuanku Abdul Rahman peak 3948 (first peaks on the right as you ascend pass Sayat-Sayat Checkpoint))

Climbing up flights of wooden stairs at 2.30am in the cold and dark is not my usual activity. All of us felt effortless as our body was still in rest mode. After about 1 hour from Panabalan, you will arrive at Sayat-Sayat Checkpoint. You will tick-off your assigned number that will ensure you a successful summit cert at the end of the climb. As you leave the checkpoint, sub-alpine zone, the landscape changes into an alpine rock desert.

We trek on 45-degree granite slaps, all the way to the peak. The trek up is aided with robes to support hikers as the rock surface is slippery from rain and mist. This arduous treks passes the shadows of Tuanku Abdul Rahman peaks beneath a sky full of stars and a sickle moon. As time passes, a faint light at the horizon beams, the cold breeze intensifies. I could make out Donkey Ear's peak in a distance, while hurrying my pace as the sky brightens more.

The first ray of light touches the dark moonscape of the plateau. We continued a little more but the sun was rising beneath the horizon, there was a long queue to Low's peak, we decided to catch the sunrise with the Ugly Sisters Peak at the background. It was 5.45am, we stopped at the vantage point to enjoy the scene before making the obligatory march to Low's peak.

The Ugly Sister Peak at Sunrise



It took us around 3 and half hours to scale up the peak, we spent about 45 minutes up there snapping away the jubilant moment! I realized later that time at the peak should be brief. The journey back to Panarlaban took about 2 half hours. I arrived at 9.30am, barely enough time for breakfast which ends at 1030am and checked out at 1030am. Some friends who did not make it back at 1030am had to extend their hotel stay. The Hut charges 100rm for every extra hour. And of course it makes sense to have a meal before making your way down to the park. Thankfully the cafeteria do have ala-carte meal menu!

The journey back and forth to the peak was extremely energy sapping. There was no time for rest. After the brief breakfast, we checked-out, and hurried down the hill hoping it won't rain later in the afternoon. The first 2km, although descending was not as easy as I envisioned it to be. By 11am, the trail was packed with many hikers and porters both ways. It took around 1 half hour to clear 2km.

The following 4km to the park entrance took around 2 hours at moderate speed with some energy refuel breaks in between. The trail to the entrance was a long and never-ending one. But eventually it flatten out and the familiar sound of the waterfall can be heard and finally the flight of steps to Timpohon gate!

Note: There were friends from our group who did not manage to exit the park by 4pm and the guide charged apprx. 80rm per extra hour after 4pm. If there is a driver waiting at the entrance, you will be charged for overtime as well.

Hard job for porters

Time reference Checkpoints

Estimates on our hike readings . It took us around 5 hours including lunch break to cover 6km to Panalaban.

0950 - Start Hike from Timpohon

1000- Pondok Kandis

1015- Pondok Ubah

1045- Pondok Low II

1115- Pondok Mempening

1145- Pondok Layang Layang (lunch)

1300- Pondok Villosa

1350- Pondok Pakar

1415- Panalaban


This hike up to Mt Kinabalu is indeed challenging. On the second day with lack of sleep, and high elevations, it is not surprising that one would think he or she is hit by AMS. It is important to rehydrate and have enough food.

Our trip to climb the mountain was arranged by the River Junkies Travel and KiewNam for making out dreams possible! Big shout out to all the organizers and guides who took care of us up and down safely!

Although there was some hiccups along the way but we successfully summited and returned unscathed. Mt Kinabalu is a big mountain, the hike is demanding but you'll feel accomplished and when at the peak, it is surreal to witness such incredible beauty!

Date visited: 15th May 2023